What to Expect in Cardiac Surgery
Having heart surgery is a major event in your life. We know this and make every effort to keep you as comfortable and informed as possible, focusing on you or your loved one as an individual.
Your health care team will help you make decisions as you progress through your care. Your team includes cardiovascular surgeons, physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, dietitians, and others. It also includes you — the most important member of the team.
You will meet with your surgeon and health care team in the clinic. Together, we will decide if surgery is right for you. We review your goals and discuss the options together. We will review your diagnostic tests, such as an echocardiogram or coronary CT angiogram, and use a heart model to demonstrate what will be done during your surgery. Please ask questions or bring a loved one with you to ask questions you may not have thought of and write down answers. It is important to your team that you understand all the benefits and risks to your surgery.
Depending on what type of surgery you have, you may go home the same day or need to stay in the hospital for several days. Some procedures may require you to stay in the intensive care unit (ICU). In the intensive care unit, you are checked in on at all times of the day and night. You may notice unusual sounds from the equipment and from your health care team. Because of all this activity, you may not sleep well the first few days after surgery. Your family and loved ones can visit once you are settled in the progressive care unit or the intensive care unit.
Before you leave the hospital, your health care team can help you plan for the kind of care you may need after you leave. You may need extra support for a short time as it is important to return slowly to normal activity levels. Your health care team can also help you plan how to return to your usual level of activity. Be sure to go to all of your follow-up appointments so your care provider can check your progress. Plan to see your primary health care provider within seven days after you leave the hospital. Our surgeons may send a report about your surgery to your primary care provider. You also may be asked to see your cardiologist about one to three months after you leave the hospital. Follow the instructions your care team gives you.
When to seek help
When to seek emergency care
Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency services number or have someone drive you to an emergency room if you have chest pain not related to pain from your incision.
When to contact your care provider
Contact your health care provider right away if you have any of the following:
- Worsening shortness of breath.
- Fast or irregular heart rate.
- Swelling of hands, feet, or ankles.
- Rapid weight gain.
Also contact your provider for any of the following:
- Night sweats with fever. Night sweats without a fever are common for about two weeks after surgery. They are not a problem.
- Problems sleeping.
- Signs of infection that include:
- Temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) or greater.
- Increased swelling, tenderness or redness at an incision or chest tube site.
- Increased pain or pain not relieved by pain medications.
- A bad-smelling odor or new or increased drainage coming from an incision or chest tube site.
If you have questions about this information, your heart surgery, or your recovery, contact your surgeon or other health care team member.